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Thank you to Atria Booksfor providing me with a copy of Fredrik Backman’s latest novel, Us Against You, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Fredrik Backman returns to his hockey obsessed Swedish town in Us Against You, the sequel to his 2017 novel, Beartown. Beartown is still experiencing the fallout of a scandal that pitted neighbor against neighbor: the rape of Maya, the daughter of the general manager of the Beartown Hockey Club, who accused the star player, Kevin, of attacking her. The town had divided loyalties, which only aided their biggest rival, the town of Hed, when some of the Beartown players defected to the enemy.

Months have passed and it is summer. Kevin’s family decided that it was best to leave town and although Maya will not longer have to see her rapist, she still feels hatred from those who supported him. Her father, Peter, is on the brink of having his hockey club shut down and is struggling to find a way to keep it going. He is approached by a business man with a proposition, yet the solution may come at the expense of the town residents.

LIKE– I love Fredrik Backman’s novels. He creates characters that have a way of invading your soul; characters that are not only memorable, but ones who become part of your world. I was very eager to go back to Beartown. I have to qualify this though, Beartown is not a happy place. It’s an economically depressed town in rural Sweden. Terrible and cruel things happen in Beartown. It is not a place that you’d want to visit on a vacation to Sweden! The characters are all rough around the edges and have a heavy distrust towards outsiders. They would not welcome you to Beartown. That said, they are also people who love fiercely and are protective towards their own. Beartown has a strong sense of community that is enviable. These are people who not only know their place in the world, but actively own it and are proud of it.

Us Against You is even better than Beartown. I think it has to do with the story. Beartownis more straight-forward, where asUs Against Youis all about the fall-out from the rape and people having to face how they initially reacted. It’s complicated. People do not like to be confronted with their mistakes. Change is hard, change is complicated. Us Against Youhas a large cast of characters and each is written with complexity.

I feel that Backman’s story is timely with regards to the current policy climate, both in America and around the world. It’s not a political story per-se , but it is a story about human emotions and about working with different view points or more than that, the idea that people value things at different levels. It seems simple that people would agree that Kevin should be punished for raping Maya, but it’s not simple. Beyond the idea that some people think Maya has lied, some characters feel that things like having a winning hockey team are more important than Maya’s pain. It’s not really the hockey though. For example, some of the parents of other kids on the team, kids that may not be as talented as Kevin, but who have worked hard for many years, will lose their opportunity to be on a winning team if Kevin isn’t allowed to play. They don’t see it as simple as a Kevin/Maya issue, now that their child is affected. Right or wrong, their value is on their own child, over Maya or Kevin. As in real life, Backman’s characters are complicated because they value different things at different levels, which can lead to not only misunderstandings, but an “Us Against You” attitude. Communication is impossible when people build up their walls.

I’ve been to a hockey game, but I can’t claim to know much about the sport. Us Against Youis a story about the people of the town, but it also has a lot about the game of hockey. It’s a testament to Backman’s writing skills that he can keep a non-hockey fan engaged in the parts of the story that involved the hockey games and practice. I felt energy in his writing that made me excited about the sport.

DISLIKE– My only negative is occasional bouts of sluggish pacing.

RECOMMEND– Yes! If you’ve not already read Beartown, read it first. Us Against Youis a must read for Beartownand Backman fans!

Bear Town

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Thank You to Atria Books for providing me with an advanced copy of Fredrik Backman’s novel, Bear Town, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– In the Swedish countryside, deep in the forest, exists a town that’s just barely managing to survive. Beartown has been economically depressed for decades and its population keeps dropping. Ice hockey is the only thing that gives the town hope.

Beartown finally has a great team and if they can win the finals, the town has hope that money will pour back into their community. The weight of this win, rests of the talents of high school students, boys that have been training their whole lives for this opportunity. It’s not as simple as winning a game. There are deep divisions between the coaches, the general manager of the hockey club, and the sponsors. These issues are pushed to the forefront when a star player is accused of raping the daughter of the general manager. What will happen when the loyalties and traditions of a small, fragile town are put to the test?

LIKE– I read Backman’s, A Man Called Ove, a few years ago, and since then, Backman has become one of my favorite contemporary writers. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read his latest novel, Bear Town.

Admittedly, I don’t know much or care much about ice hockey, but that is not a prerequisite to reading Bear Town. Although the game and game terminology is used, Backman explains it in terms that even someone unfamiliar with the sport, can understand. The biggest thing to know is that the entire town is obsessed with the sport, basically seeing it as a way to pull their town out of poverty. The parents of the players, sacrifice everything to make sure that their kid has every opportunity. It’s this sacrifice that makes the adults act irrationally.

The boys, (there is no female hockey team in Beartown) who are the best players, are essentially elevated to a god-like status and are able to get away with bad behavior. Although the story is set in Sweden, the same attitude towards sports and talented players exists here in America and will feel familiar.

The best part of Bear Town is the intensity and suspense. The first line of the novel tells us that one person has a gun to the forehead of another person, but we do not know how that scene will play out until the end of the novel. Backman kept me guessing the whole way and that introduction of danger was enough to send a ripple through-out the entire novel. What’s interesting is there isn’t a huge amount of plot to the story, it primarily involved this major game, a celebration party, and the aftermath of the rape, yet the story never drops in suspense. Bear Town is character, not plot driven.

What works so well is Backman’s well-developed characters. Bear Town doesn’t have one main character, it has several, and by the end of the story, I felt that I understood each of them. What Backman has done, is he has made the entirety of the town the main character. The theme of being a team or part of a collective is key to the story. There is a huge sense of surprise with regard to how the characters act in response to the rape. I didn’t anticipate some of the reactions, yet they all made sense within the framework of each character. The ending is beautiful and hopeful. The result is a poignant, thought-provoking, and surprising novel: Backman’s storytelling at its best.

DISLIKE– Nothing. If you’re not familiar with Backman, go buy all of his novels, right now!

RECOMMEND– Yes!!! Bear Town is darker and heavier than Backman’s previous novels, but it’s brilliant. Brilliant and important.